The night before Coachella officially opened its doors, I was whisked inside under the cover of night in the back of a blacked out bus to witness the world premiere of RÜFÜS DU SOL's "Underwater" music video. After being ushered through a few security checkpoints and held in a cocktail lounge-shaped holding pattern, we arrived at the large planetarium-like structure of the HP Antarctic Dome to watch the video's intricate abstract patterns unfold on the structure's ceiling at a dizzying clip. The product of five visual artists working in tandem with the video's director, the music video visually looks like a cross between the end of Interstellar and a sophisticated screensaver in a space-y futuristic psychedelia that, due to the venue's enormous scale, felt like you were falling upward and swallowed whole.
It was a night that would set the tone for the weekend for RÜFÜS DU SOL. With a prime time slot Friday night, the Australian trio of Tyrone Lindqvist, Jon George, and James Hunt were clearly eager, if a bit anxious, for their Coachella performance. Backstage they explain that they've been looking forward to this show the most while on what they describe as a particularly grueling tour. They are understandably excited and upbeat, flashing big grins and chatting casually with their entourage, but in sitting down with them only an hour or so before their set time it was clear to see a weariness in their eyes.
They've been remarkably candid in discussing the trials and tribulations they went through while making their third studio album, Solace. During the recording of the album they decided to live together in a house in LA, just a few feet from their studio. It was a decision of convenience that ended up opening a door to much darker places than they had before. Learning how to live with one another understandably put new strains on their relationships but it also helped them understand each other on a deeper level than before.
This tension between conflict and comfort is ultimately what drives Solace; contrasting moments of sprawling euphoria with deep bass that sits in the pit of your stomach. There is an underlying optimism that things will get better, that a light will be found at the end of the tunnel, that comes through in each track. Watching them perform that night, RÜFÜS DU SOL is practically beaming on stage; Jon with an irrepressible grin across his face and raw emotion spilling out of Tyrone as he waded into the crowd, arms outstretched.
With the pressure now off, the RÜFÜS boys visibly loosened up for the rest of the weekend. Whether it was tag teaming a DJ set at the Hilton Day Club, closing out the Do LaB stage Sunday night, or simply sharing a barbecued meal at their Indio villa, the trio was inseparable. If you happened to run into one, odds were the other two were somewhere nearby. It was evident that in spite of the album's hardships, they had emerged from that experience as a stronger, tighter-knit unit with a deeper understanding of one another. Their shared camaraderie renewed by an album that nearly tore them apart.
PAPER sat down with RÜFÜS DU SOL to delve deeper into the process behind Solace and what the band took ultimately took away from the experience.
You all rather famously lived together at your LA studio for this record. Did you find that unlocked something new from you as a group?
Jon George: Well it was really cool because previously we delved briefly into that style of living and writing when making our second record where we lived together for maybe two months in Berlin. But then we went back to Sydney to finish it and were living separately. For the entire process of Solace we were living together and breathing the same air, it was very much a Brady Bunch type of situation. The whole record was informed by the ability to go until it was late because the studio was literally ten minutes from our bedroom. That ability to go into the void a bit, and just go go go go, was definitely conducive to bringing up some darker emotions. It became a little bit unhealthy at times. That's an important part of the record, that there's this darker, more raw spectrum of emotions.
In what way exactly?
James Hunt: It's a personal experience for all three of us, and there's the things that we share, but just like putting your life on hold a little bit and not really taking care of yourself. I found myself doing that a lot, and neglecting my partner at the time, entering darker states within my mind. I was able to escape by going into the studio, which isn't a really healthy way of dealing with things, but it's good for music.
That's interesting because "solace," as a concept, is like you're going through a dark tunnel but you find something comforting at the end. What was that sort of comforting thing at the end for you guys?
James: Yeah, I think for us that's why we were really comfortable using that word to represent the place that we had come to. It was something tangible that we had that was like a ticket saying that we had been through something and had an experience. Now it's a piece of time that we can look back on.
Jon: This happens every time we put music out, but there's a catharsis in seeing other people emotional reactions to it. I think there's a hope that you can connect with someone and provide a morsel of something that they connect with or have experienced. I guess that's the light at the end of the tunnel, in a way.
Was there a moment of personal catharsis for you?
Tyrone Lindqvist: There were multiple. Every song feels like a strong representation of a particular moment of what we were going through, each one had a moment of catharsis, and we all had separate experiences. I remember having this experience after listening to "New Sky," just after we had written it and it was really fresh we had just bounced it down. I was lying on the couch and when it goes "I want to go, I want to fly..." I just went into like particles with my eyes closed, and it was the most euphoric out of body experience that I had ever had. It was just like, woah. Those experiences are really rare and you can't predict when they come. Each song on the record has its own unique experience that feels very in tune with a specific feeling.
What was the most challenging part of writing this album?
Jon: Finishing it [all laugh]. We had written a lot of material and it got to crunch time where we put goals in ourselves to kind of get some music out there. It's a very scary thing to decide what song you're going to put out first and how you want to go about finishing songs up. It's a very stressful and nerve-wracking time where it's just time to bunker down and put in the work. We were just putting in so many hours to make sure that we were happy with the product.
James: There was definitely this one thing that seemed to be a challenge, or an interesting part of the process, which was that there seemed to be a lot of cross pollination. Especially talking about the first thing out "No Place" which ended up very all over the place. It wasn't as linear. We worked with some new people on this record, which was new for us. This whole process we tried to make everything challenge, we deleted our usual work process because we intentionally wanted to pull ourselves out of our comfort zone. It was a really rewarding way of writing.
You kind of touched on this a little bit, but how was this process different from your first two records?
James: The big thing, I think, that informed the process was that we were able to buy a bunch of analog synths that we had been pining after for a couple of years. For the first two records we were more about taking turns on the laptop and putting ideas down on the page, so it was sequential. Whereas with this one we had a bunch of amazing synths, so we could simultaneously jam. It was almost more of a band way of writing where we were all jamming in the same space. It was a beautiful escapist wonderland that we created in Venice. And we called this friend of ours, we call a Shaman, who we had come in and decorate the place. We'd lose hours in there and organize the material later. That was a very big departure from the way we had written music before that.
How would you describe what Solace is about?
James: Well we didn't know what we were writing about when we first started. It was just about using the sonic space that we now had with these new synths, and it started to take shape. We were using a lot of star gazing imagery and sort of trying to create different atmospheres.
Tyrone: It feels like an emotional mountain. I think in ten years' time we'll be able to listen to that record and we'll be able to take ourselves back to a place and time where we might have been going through something and we didn't have the light at the end of the tunnel. Finishing the songs and do them justice was really challenging. I think in ten years' time; it'll be like a road map for us. Instead of a photo or a video we get music to listen to, to take us back to a point in time.
Kind of like a musical scrapbook?
Having lived with each other for the duration of writing this album I imagine you all got to know each other's habits pretty well. What are some pet peeves you have about one another?
Jon: Pet peeves, I can lump them both into the same one with general cleanliness. Like just leaving shit in the studio. I think that because I went to boarding school, I had a very particular way of doing this. Like I pack all of my things neatly.
Tyron: My pet peeve is more like jealousy, because he's got so much order in his life. Like when he packs, he has a bag, for a bag, for a bag. It's like everything's in its place, and for me when I pack it's like debauchery where you have to pack it each time.
James: I don't know if this is a pet peeve but I'm definitely nonstop. Like when I would write I would just keep going, and if I'd be on a role and like Jon wanted to go to sleep or something, I would get annoyed. However, that speaks to my own unhealthiness.
Tyrone: No yeah I'd say that's a big strength of yours. It's almost obsessive, you could learn anything like you were an internal manual.
James: Yeah I would say that's the case for the both of them, they go in deep on whatever they're doing. They both have a good 'not settling'-type of feature.
This is interesting to hear because you all talk about what about each other gets on your nerves because you've all managed to spin it into something you admire about that person...
James: In a way these things were already apparent to us. We see each other more than we see our families or friends sometimes, so I feel like we know each other fairly well.
Was it like a new level of intimacy?
Jon: Yeah, I'd say that's the tightest we'd been in close quarters together. A revelation I've had sort of recently is that it's like we've been together, and we've grown together so closely because we live together and we're not subjected to a lot of outside influence. We're very protective of each other, which is a good thing too, but then you get to a point where you need to grow and live personally in order to keep going.
Do you find it isolating? You live away from your friends and family so often…
James: Yeah as Jon was saying it's this little bubble, and you can exist in the bubble as much as you want. And more and more we've been touring, and it's escalated in a way, so yeah time off is really important to reconnect with other areas of your life so you can offer more creatively. The push and pull of it is important, rather than just push.
Do you remember a specific point where you realized you had pushed yourselves to a new level?
Tyrone: There have been several moments where that happens. Last year we were doing five shows a week, sometimes more, and I remember my voice just couldn't really handle it. When something goes down physically it makes continuing so hard. It's not like you can just take a day off, that's like cancelling a show. It's kind of like you're waiting for a break, and we didn't get that break until January. That was our first solid break recently, it was really good for us.
I wanted to dive into "Underwater" a little more. Walk me through the life of that song, start to finish.
James: I remember the very first thing is what you hear at the start, it's that arp. I remember Tyrone was jamming that and we were taking turns trying to put a delay on it, kind of like an echo, so it makes it hard to play in time. It's a mind fuck basically. That was the first thing, and from there it was pretty quickly the vocal idea.
Jon: That song in particular was a celebration of the Prophet [analog synth], which is a very big part of this record. That song, every different sound is a different iteration of what it does well, like the big bass hits.
James: It's like LCD Soundsystem, trying to get this big analog in depth feel and just having fun with the synths to their full potential. We really loved the tension and release of the song, because it feels so floaty for a lot of the moments. When the chorus comes it smashes in like a wave. That's something we wanted to play with.
You mentioned that the song was originally called "tesseract?"
James: It was called tesseract. When we'll write songs we go through it alphabetically, and for each album it's a different theme or influence. For the first record it was like places and locations, for the second it was like animals and sea creatures, and for the third it was like we had galaxies, planets, and comets. This one was 'T' and our friend Derek was like "What about tesseract?" Thats a four dimensional cube and we were like "Yeah, that's pretty spacey"
Tyrone: I remember the 'stuck underwater' lyric came in pretty quickly and I was really excited about it.
Jon: The triplet timing of it felt really strange and cool.
Tyrone: And we had this song for a while, then we worked with this guy Jason [Evberden] and he had all of these vocal samples. He travels the world and does a lot of charity work and he recorded this girl in India who had never sung for anyone before. When she was younger, her father said If you sing, we'll chop your tongue off. So it was a big deal for her to sing, and I'm not sure why she did. It's really interesting because it's just her voice, it's one voice.
Photos Courtesy of RÜFÜS DU SOL